Amid the turbulent world of football programme writing, I choose to see myself as a bit of a maverick. More often than not I have used the ‘Red Revolution’ column to spout my controversial views on the evils of modern day football and plot the downfall of the game’s vampirous autocracy, FIFA.
In the broad spectrum of history’s most prominent revolutionaries, I probably fall somewhere between Garth Crooks and Fidel Castro. As such, today’s joyful sentiments may well surprise you. It’s a bit of a change of pace from my usual rallying cries, demanding the head of Sepp Blatter on a pike.
Perhaps, having entered the autumn years of my existence, at the age of 29, I am beginning to mellow a little. Or, more likely, the bombastic return of Billy Davies has, quite simply, turned my whole world inside out.
For all its foibles, for all its sins, for all its blemishes, blotches and warts, football is still just as good as it ever has been.
For all its millionaires, its billionaires, even its trillionaires, football is as humble and straightforward as it ever was and ever will be. It’s just as beautiful too, maybe more so.
For all its illicit heroes, living in an alien bubble, diving and deceiving, cavorting and cajoling, bedazzling and then betraying, football lives on, mostly in spite of them. It’s not really about them. It’s about us. It always has been.
Managers squabble over missed handshakes, berating the officials, tapping their watches and masticating themselves into an early grave.
Players, for the most part, have become but mercenaries, cash cows who whine and whinge and plead for more, or roll around without a drip of pride. Few of them will be remembered, as they flit from club to club, without a thought of legacy.
Owners wear a hundred years of history like a crude jewel around their neck. There’s too much money, more money than ever before. Money is everything in football, nowadays … and yet when it really comes down to it, it’s nothing.
Football has undoubtedly changed. It’s moved forwards, or backwards, depending on your point of view. It’s become more cutthroat and sinister – even the ball boys are learned in the dark arts these days.
Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For all these flaws and slights against its name, football remains the most wondrous of endeavours, the best of ways to while away the hours. It remains the nation’s favourite game, a true escape for all who love it so. For those who have fallen in love with it, there is no alternative, there is no going back.
Take away all the money, the range rovers, the giant headphones, the sponsorship deals, the bloodthirsty agents, the fluorescent boots, the 24-hour TV coverage, the prozone stats and the pukka pies. You won’t even put a dent in the game. The only way to ruin a game of football is to put a sharp knife through the ball.
If the bottom drops out of ‘the industry’ and all the stadiums are sold to make way for more KFCs, there will still be football. Within minutes of the goalposts being dismantled and sold for scrap metal, some children will put down a pair of jumpers, ten feet apart. As long as we have a pig’s bladder and a stretch of grass, there will always be football.
The thrill of the bulging net is still the same as it always was, no matter how much pomp and bluster is now attached. Every goal is a release, a burst of energy that creates a drug-like frenzy. In that moment we are all freed from our bonds, leaping child-like from the edge of our seats into wild ecstasy. All else is forgotten.
When the ball hits the back of the net in the dying moments and the game is yours, the supporter beside you, who’s spent the previous ninety minutes gruffly arrowing inane offensive tripe toward your hapless centre forward, suddenly becomes magnanimous. You may have never met him before and you may never meet him again, but in that moment, regardless of wealth and creed, you are inseparable comrades.
We are all in it together. Football still does that. I think it always will.
Sometimes it feels like the beautiful game is relinquishing its hold on me, if only ever so slightly. I sometimes feel less a part of it, ever so occasionally. Perhaps it’s the stranglehold money has over our game or the realisation that to be champions of Europe again, we would need a miracle.
When you have these moments of doubt, you can’t go to a doctor, a psychiatrist or a priest. Believe me, I’ve tried all three. The only cure comes from within football itself. Six wins in a row will normally do the trick!
All of a sudden, we are all in love with football once more. After all, it never really left.
There is nothing to replace that feeling of winning. It stays with you, like a glowing shield against all else, until the next match. Six wins in a row and you can literally fly yourself to the drudgery of work every day. If we go unbeaten for the rest of the season, you’ll be able to run through walls. For that is the unshakeable, everlasting, incontrovertible power of football.
God bless it.
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